Australian Opals headed to Rio after sweep of New Zealand in FIBA Oceania Championship

From Basketball Australia:

Veterans Suzy Batkovic and Laura Hodges helped the Australian Opals to an 80-63 victory in Game 2 of the 2015 FIBA Oceania Championship and qualify Australia for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Eleven Opals players hit the scoreboard but it was Hodges (22 points) and Batkovic (15 and five rebounds) whose superb mid-range games were on show throughout the night.

New Zealand showed a determination at the offensive end, led by Micaela Cocks’ 21 points and seven boards. They won the points in the paint battle but ultimately lacked the firepower to record a game-winning score.

“The Tall Ferns were physical, strong and tough,” said Hodges. “They had a great game plan but we stuck together and had to grind it out for the full 40 minutes.”

In a similar vein to Game 1, both teams struggled to find the basket early, combining for 3-15 field goal shooting. With a strong intent on both cutting and screening, Lisa Walbutton (ten points) owned the paint to score six in the first quarter while opening up holes in the Australian defence.

The Opals’ perfect free-throw shooting kept them tied at the first break, hitting 10-10 from the charity stripe as 12 fouls were called overall in a physical start.

Australia began to find their range in the second term with Katie-Rae Ebzery (seven points) drilling the first three-pointer of the game.

They then opened up a healthy advantage late in the half as Rachel Jarry (nine points) scored on a fast break, Batkovic completed a three-point play on a gorgeous spin move and Jarry followed with a three-pointer on the half-time siren.

A 12-4 run for the Opals out of the main break was capped by a steal from Ebzery who subsequently found Hodges streaming down the floor for a lay-up. That run put the match out of reach for New Zealand although the home side continued to fight until the final siren with Cocks and Penina Davidson (eight points, 12 rebounds) battling hard.

Controlling the pace as she did throughout Game 1, Tessa Lavey again stuffed the stat-sheet for Australia with eight points, five rebounds, seven assists and four steals while Tess Madgen chimed in with eight points herself.

The Tall Ferns will now play in the 2016 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament for women in their last chance to make it to Rio but the Opals can look forward to August 2016 where they will chase a sixth straight Olympic medal.

Speaking on the number of quality players that missed the series and could be available for Rio, Hodges knows the battle for a place in the team will be tough.

“It’s good for the young girls to step up tonight but everybody is going to be fighting for that spot in Rio.”

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